Back

In Conversation with Lorenzo Antinori, Four Seasons Beverage Ambassador for Asia Pacific and Beverage Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong

   
July 8, 2019,
Hong Kong, China

Although he speaks four languages fluently and trained as a lawyer, Lorenzo Antinori has hospitality in the blood. The Rome-born, Hong Kong-based drinks maestro and Four Seasons Beverage Ambassador grew up in a family of actors, artists and painters, creative people who let him express his personality: "I've always loved to engage and entertain, ever since I was a kid. So I think law probably wasn't really the right direction! When I realised this, I thought that the best profession would be one that allowed me to be surrounded by people, entertaining them and making them feel good. The bar scene was where I belonged.”

Law's loss was hospitality's gain and Antinori started out by working in some of the world's most famed bars including both The Savoy Bar and Dandelyan in London, the latter the 2018 overall winner of the World's 50 Best Bars. He moved right into hotel bars, he explains, because “they carry a magic aura with them.” He won awards including “Best International Hotel Bar” while the cocktail-line up secured “Best International Menu” at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.

He then moved to Korea in 2017 to oversee the multi-awarded Charles H. bar at Four Seasons Hotel Seoul where he quickly made his mark on the region's rapidly-evolving cocktail scene, ensuring that the bar ranked among Asia’s 50 Best Bars in the first year of the awards.

"What really intrigued me in Seoul was the story about Charles H. Baker the writer. It's a great example of a space where the programming worked alongside the design and the storytelling."

Antinori explains that consumers in Korea were particularly curious and willing to try new things, characterising most of the Korean cocktail bars as almost Japanese style: "Very quiet, very elegant but there's an element of being in a sanctuary. Charles H. has more of a smart casual feel and a bit more energy."

In his role as one of two Beverage Ambassadors for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, he now supports bar operations throughout northern Asia, namely Greater China, Japan and Korea. While based at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, he also oversees the forthcoming renovation of Blue Bar as well as the cocktail program for Caprice Bar, the Pool Terrace and In-Room Dining. The Hotel already boasts an incredible eight Michelin stars for its dining - more in one hotel than anywhere else in the world - so by leading forthcoming changes to the Hotel's iconic Blue Bar, expectations are understandably high: "This is going to be one of the biggest projects Four Seasons has ever done when it comes to bars. The bar will be totally different, with a new name, very much cocktails-driven. The room will be spectacular, perfect for a moment in the afternoon or the evening. The idea is to create a destination bar, with a contemporary fresh design and international beverage program to match it. It'll be very different - there's nothing like it in Hong Kong - we really want to be the catalyser for the heart of the city."

On the much sought-after list of Asia's 50 Best Bars 2019, two are from Four Seasons properties, a remarkable success rate that is unbeaten by any hotels and resorts group: "I think there has really been a focus on creating menus with a very strong identity with a sense of storytelling. We attract consumers who enjoy next-level drinking experiences."

When not in Hong Kong, Antinori's additional role takes him around the region to elevate beverage operations of some of Asia's most esteemed hotels and resorts. He dives deep into the creative process and works on conceptualising new venues, sharing his knowledge with teams, building the foundations of future destination bars. Wherever he works in Asia, he's passionate about instilling the sense of authenticity between a place and the product that the bar is delivering.

"It's not just about originality or using local ingredients and local spirits, but actually highlighting the source and the people buying the product and telling the story."

He also loves crafting drinks for guests, although if it's a Pina Colada or blended drink, he admits with a smile that "I try to pass it to my colleagues!"

What does your dual role involve?

In this role, myself and Philip act as advisors and also work on-site at various Four Seasons properties. We are involved in the creative process and work on training programs, manual development as well conceptualising new venues. It's very important to be able to share our knowledge with teams from properties that don't necessarily have a destination bar, being able to train that team, build the foundations and to achieve the goals that we set as a company.

So Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong already has an incredible eight Michelin stars for dining, you're leading changes to the iconic Blue Bar, what can guests expect?

This is going to be one of the biggest projects Four Seasons has ever done when it comes to bars. The bar will be totally different, we'll have a new name and it will be very much cocktails driven, with many unique elements. The room will be spectacular, perfect for a moment in the afternoon or the evening. It will be modern with very fresh, international drinks, modern design and a very contemporary beverage program. It will be something very different and there is nothing really like that in Hong Kong, we really want to be the catalyser for the heart of the city in Hong Kong, Central.

Looking at Asia's 50 Best Bars 2019, two are from the Four Seasons, what's the secret of the group's success?

I think there has really been a focus on creating menus with a very strong identity with a sense of storytelling. I don't like to call it a "concept"! We attract people, consumers, who enjoy next-level drinking experiences.

You've been in Asia since 2017, what bought you here?

I was previously in London and was lucky enough to work in some great bars including The Savoy and for a few years at Dandelyan (the 2018 overall winner of World's 50 Best Bars). Having worked with some of the best people in the industry for five years, I felt that it was time to get some fresh air and Asia was, and still is, a great platform for food and beverage. What really intrigued me in Seoul was the identity of the bar Charles H. and the story about Charles H. Baker the writer, there was a little bit of a mystery around that destination. It's another great example of a space where the programming worked alongside the design and the storytelling.

There are a lot of exciting things happening when it comes to beverages, while there are also a few restrictions due to regulations so you can't really compare a beverage program in Korea or to London, because there are certain products that are not available.

Consumers in Korea are curious and willing to try new things, so I think what makes Charles H. very popular and successful is that it's a very different Korean bar. Most Korean cocktail bars I would say are quiet and elegant with an element of being in a sanctuary. So I think Charles H. has more of a smart casual feel and a bit more energy in the environment, creating events that people have not seen in a cocktail bar. I think that was the point of success.

You have an incredible resume and experience, what are your favourite drinks to make - and also to drink?

I like to make any type of drink. As long as the guest in front of me is enjoying it, I'm fine. Of course if I have to be very, very honest, whenever there's a Pina Colada or any other blended drink to make, I try to pass it to my colleagues to prepare!  What I like to drink depends on the time of the day and probably my mood. If it's early, pre-dinner, I'll probably go for a Martini or a Negroni. If it's later in the evening, after dinner, nowadays I'm drinking more rum, like dark rum, dark spirits, but rum probably is my after dinner go-to.

You were a lawyer previously, you speak four languages and it's a really interesting move into the world of hospitality. What's the basis of your passion?

My family have always been in the arts, so I grew up with family who have been actors, artists and painters. I've always been surrounded by very creative people and my family has always let me express my personality, so I've always loved to engage and entertain, ever since I was a kid. Law probably wasn't the right direction for me! When I realised this, I thought that the best thing would be a profession that allowed me to be surrounded by people so that I can engage with them and make them feel good.

Do you think Asia is particularly dynamic when it comes to bars?

There is global attention on Asia, not just when it comes to food and beverage, but also on the continued economic growth.  More people are travelling there, they're doing business and the consequence is that there are more opportunities and focus on food and beverage. I believe Bangkok, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, are markets that in a few years will be part of this fascinating food and beverage boom.

I think the big trend will be to create the sense of authenticity between a place and the product that the bar or the restaurant is delivering. You can see nowadays there are lots of spirits in the market that really express a sense of authenticity, connect them with the terroir. It's not just about originality or using local ingredients and local spirits, but actually highlighting the source and the people buying the product and telling the story.